RUGBY UNION: Ojomoh may leave Bath

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The Independent Online
Unable to command a regular first-choice place at Bath, the England back-row forward Steve Ojomoh yesterday fulfilled a long-standing threat when he announced he had signed to play for Northampton next season. By a timely irony, he is due to play againstNorthampton on Saturday.

This does not mean Ojomoh is at the end of the road with the English champions because, even if his fortunes there do not change during the latter part of this season, it could be John Hall's last season for Bath. If the captain were to retire, Ojomoh's difficulty would instantly be alleviated.

But with the World Cup in South Africa barely four months away, it does mean he has reached the end of his tether. Ojomoh had told the Bath selectors towards the end of last season that they had been hindering his England chances and that he could not allow this to continue indefinitely.

He had no more than nine first-team games in the whole of the season but was outstanding when he was capped 11 months ago and also during England's summer tour of South Africa. Each one of his four caps has fuelled his impatience.

Yesterday he said: "Due to my lack of first-team rugby in the run-up to the World Cup and following approaches from several First Division clubs, I have decided to consider my future playing career. For this reason, I have completed registration forms tokeep my options open for next season. In the meantime, I remain committed to Bath's league and cup campaign."

As Ojomoh is free to change his mind at any time, the options would probably not include going through with this move if Northampton, currently bottom of the First Division, were relegated.

Besides, every pronouncement Ojomoh, 24, has ever made points to a preference for staying put. As recently as September he said: "If things remained the same, I suppose I would have to take my services elsewhere, but to me that would be a failure. To be honest, the battle to win my place at Bath is why I never moved in the first place."

This season Ojomoh appeared in six of Bath's first nine First Division fixtures but was pointedly passed over for the biggest three - at home to Bristol, Wasps and Leicester - and was selected for neither last month's cup-tie at London Scottish nor last Saturday's league match at Bristol. When it comes down to it, Bath remain reluctant to break up their established back row of Hall, Ben Clarke and Andy Robinson.

By his own admission, he was out of condition during the autumn and his struggle for form and confidence was reflected in an unusually anonymous performance against Romania in November. Since then he has lost his England place and failed to appear- as the England management wished -in the Divisional Championship.

Ojomoh's attachment to Bath includes a job with one of the club's principal benefactors, and the Bath coach, Brian Ashton, is not yet resigned to his departure. "Steve is an integral part of our side for the future of Bath," Ashton said.